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Procedures for Vetting Claims of Extraterrestrial Intelligence
by Principal Investigator H. Paul Shuch

While I would very much hope that all responses to our humble Invitation will be ETI extending a tentacle in friendship, the truth is somewhat more mundane. Of the roughly sixty responses to this Invitation received as of late 2005, each claiming to be from representatives of extraterrestrial intelligence, all have very quickly proven to have been sent by human imposters. We understand that many humans reading these pages will enjoy playing a round or two of "fool the experts," and we are not above indulging them, to an extent. However, the Signatories to this Invitation (for whatever expertise they may possess) have lives, and responsibilities, and finite temporal resources, and would prefer to invest those limited resources in a productive scientific search. Thus, we will do little to encourage or engage a hoaxer once unmasked.

If you are a human wishing to explore (in either a humorous or a scholarly vein) the nature and format of an actual ETI contact, we have provided a Form for this purpose. As for communications ostensibly from ETI, we have established vetting procedures to permit us quickly and efficiently to evaluate all claims which this project may attract.

While I will not attempt herein to detail the exact means by which this vetting process occurs, lest we help those so inclined to craft ever more clever fraudulent claims, I am quick to point out that, collectively, the Signatories to this Invitation possess a diverse background of impressive experience in all the physical, biological, and social sciences. Thus, depending upon the specific kind of evidence that is offered for consideration, we are in a position quickly to assemble an appropriately expert team, schooled in conducting an objective (though appropriately skeptical) evaluation of the evidence at hand. In the few dozen occasions on which such teams have been assembled, claimants have rather quickly revealed themselves when faced with verification tasks that taxed their creativity.

These verification exercises have been instructional for the evaluators as well as the claimants. Although the specific vetting procedures will vary widely as a function of the specifics of the claim, what they all have in common is the assumption that true extraterrestrial intelligence will possess skills and knowledge not in humankind's possession, yet easy for humans to verify once proffered. We feel the burden of proof should fall appropriately upon ETI, to offer compelling evidence not easily explained away.

What form exactly such evidence may take is beyond my predictive powers. However, though I can't define extraterrestrial intelligence a priori, I feel confident I can echo US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's concurring decision in the 1964 Jacobellis vs. Ohio obscenity case: "I know it when I see it."

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The Invitation to ETI was founded by Prof. Allen Tough
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This page last updated 15 May 2011.
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